Use technology to cut costs, escape the rat race and run your business from virtually anywhere
By Viresh Harduth, Vice President: New Customer Acquisition (Start-up & Small Business) for Sage Africa & Middle East
As a small business owner, you may be tired of paying exorbitant commercial rentals and fighting traffic every day to get to the office. The good news is that today’s technology means you can work wherever you have Internet access. By turning your company into a ‘virtual business’, you can trim your costs, improve your flexibility and give your team the freedom to work remotely, too.
After all, Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available, fast mobile broadband covers you where Wi-Fi doesn’t, and you can access your applications and data from nearly anywhere in the world, as long as you have a smartphone or notebook. It’s becoming increasingly viable and attractive for small companies to ditch the expensive offices, long face-to-face meetings and endless paper documents to go virtual.
Here are a few tips on how to start or run a successful virtual business:
1. Get the right tools for the job
To run a successful virtual business, you need to invest in the right tools. Are you working from home and doing a lot of video-conference calls? Look into a good fibre internet package. Spending a lot of time on the road? Ensure you purchase mobile devices – smartphone, tablet, notebook – that are powerful, easy to carry and comfortable to use.
You may also need to consider a good mobile data solution. It might make sense to invest in data SIMs from two providers, just in case you’re in an area where your primary provider has poor coverage.
2. Optimise and automate with cloud solutions
It wouldn’t do to run your virtual business off paper records or spreadsheets. The most successful virtual businesses are those that automate business processes to save time and money. There are many powerful cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools that can help you run a lean, efficient business. You access these solutions online and pay an affordable monthly or annual subscription to use them.
For example, marketing automation tools can help you generate automated marketing e-mails to your customers, schedule social media and blog posts, track in-bound sales leads, and so much more.
Cloud-based accounting and payroll solutions can enable you to streamline quoting, invoicing, financial reporting, compliance and reconciliations. These solutions quickly pay for themselves in the time savings they deliver.
Bonus: and if you have an accountant helping you, he/she can also login anytime and you can have a quick Skype session to discuss the monthly forecast. Another bonus: with online apps, your data is automatically backed up to the cloud, so you don’t need to hassle with it yourself.
3. Build your virtual team
If you’re going to build a virtual business, you can be more flexible about how and where you source talented people to help you grow your business. For example, it might make sense to get freelancers or contractors to help out with finance or marketing.
You can get an accounting practice to help you with tax filing and financial statements, and collaborate over the cloud. If you do project-based work, like construction or IT, you could round up the right team to collaborate with you for every contract rather than employing full-time resources, allowing you to easily scale your team up and down in response the workload you have.
For admin related tasks, consider a Virtual Assistant, to help you with the admin so you can focus on growing your business. Artificial intelligence can also be part of the ‘’team’. Another tip is to look at using chatbots on channels like your Facebook page. They can answer basic customer queries for you, and today’s chatbot development tools don’t necessarily need you to know any coding.
4. Work together
The cloud makes it easy for you to interact and share files, ideas and data with your virtual team wherever they are. Encourage everyone you work with to standardise on the same set of tools. For example:
- File sharing and back-up: DropBox, GoogleDrive or OneDrive
- Voice and video comms: Webex or Skype for Business
- Accounting and payroll: Sage Business Cloud
- Slack or Microsoft Teams for messaging to make communicating and sharing easier.
Also consider making use of an e-mail solution such as G-Suite where you can access your business e-mails on the go. Some of these tools are also great to introduce to clients and show you are a technology-driven small business.
5. Create a bridge to the real world
Not all your customers may be ready to go virtual. However, providers such as Regus and The Business Centre offer virtual office services for an affordable monthly fee that help bridge the gap. They will provide you with a receptionist to answer calls in your company’s name and take messages, as well as boardrooms in prime locations for face-to-face meetings.
This can help you project the right image or provide comfort to your customers who would otherwise feel nervous dealing with a company that looks like little more than a person with a cell phone.
If you want something different, consider the modern approach of co-working offices such as Co Space. They are cheaper and more flexible than having your own offices. You can use them when you need a space to focus or if you’re missing that office buzz.